Puppy. Day 3. Brothers reunited.
Following our 0400hrs wee, the day started in earnest at 0600hrs. Up and out for a wee in the usual spot. This works for me at the moment because I am trying to get into a routine ready for work on Monday. I am aware however that he is always toileting on the same type of surface. In this case it is a pile of leaves/mud under a laurel tree. It is sheltered when raining and he has been using that spot from day 1. I will soon give him the opportunity to toilet in different locations and can encourage this with my classically conditioned “be quick” which if he is able, will help him go. It is easy not to realize that your pup only toilets on concrete or grass, or will only do it at home. Most people don’t give this a thought until they have a problem so I thought I would give it a mention. Police work is all about generalization in terms of dog training and toilet training is no exception.
Breakfast was served at 0620hrs today, in the van as making a good association is still a priority. Slightly earlier again today because I will want him to have his first feed before I leave for work. My trip to work is often shorter than my journey to the training venue and I can use my arrival at work to socialise with the horses, other trainers dogs and all the other novel stimuli that can be found there. After breakfast he explored and I encouraged him to play with a ball of screwed up paper rather than bite my trouser leg. Biting will be an important part of his life and so I do not want to punish or discourage biting at all. I will teach rules later but for now I simply distract and divert onto something more appropriate. This is in essence the ‘dead for live’ routine which we will look at later and is how I will progress the biting but just as importantly the ‘out’. For now though, I simply keep still and make the other item more interesting. Pups are easily distracted at this stage.
At 0730hrs I placed him in the crate and shut the door (the crate in the photo is too small and belongs to my mums dog). He was quite aroused (stimulated not horny) due to his energy burst from food and the games we had been playing. He whined a few times and pushed the door with his paw. He then turned and circled before lying down. I immediately went and opened the door and smoothed him. After a minute I returned him to the crate and shut the door again. He immediately lay down.
When he first arrived home he was in the middle of a trauma and my aim was to do whatever I could to ease his pain. His cries were desperate and answering them was the only course of action that would help. Allowing him to cry himself out would eventually see him be quiet but for all the wrong reasons. Nobody could predict accurately exactly what or how much damage would be done but it is best not to find out. He is now much more settled, sees me as a safe attachment figure and has his crate as a safe haven. He is also looking very comfortable around my kids and in the house generally. He has been very slowly exposed to small but increasing amounts of isolation and so his vocalisation in the crate when I shut the door now was very different. It was short, quiet and nothing like as intense. The crate is his safe haven and on occasions he has voluntarily gone in there and lay down. When I shut the door he gets up and whines. I see this as being more about the loss of options and choice than an isolation issue as clearly I am right next to him. Whilst I also don’t want to rush this phase or create undue distress by simply locking him in, it is something which I have put time and effort into and is a valuable step. He likes the crate, finds it a safe place and appears to be content in there when he is tired and to sleep in there.
Being placed in there when he is slightly more lively is a similar process but different. I clearly can’t be around to supervise him 24/7 and so need to be able to put him somewhere safe when I can’t even if he isn’t due for a sleep. At this stage the process is quite easy because after about half an hour of adventure he is generally tired if not sleepy. This makes the process of placing him in the crate easier and which is why I like to do it now, as soon as we are past the initial separation trauma.
If you leave it later the puppy will be less easily tired, will have developed the habit of sleeping in other places around the house and will be more wilful and may fight against the process more than he will now.
Just as I initially gave attention in the crate just for going in there, I am now going to repeat the process with the door closed. The intention is to place him in the crate when is tired, after exercise and is less active or with something enjoyable to do. I don’t want him to cry and vocalise or attempt to escape. I want him to want to be in the crate and to enjoy it.
I will start with just a few seconds if required and build up systematically but as rapidly as I can get away with (remember I am under tremendous time pressure) but never cutting corners. That is a mistake that will cost either you or the puppy at some stage.
Place the dog in the crate, shut the door and wait. If he is quiet and relaxed open the door and fuss him. You can give treats or toys or whatever works. If he is eating his food you can lock the door. Open it before he finishes initially but you can wait until after he has finished but before he makes any attempts to get out.
It is like all other things I have done, I am looking to make the desired habit before any bad habits have a chance to develop. Whilst this sounds time consuming, I have done it a few times on day 2 and 20+ times on day 3 and the pup is as happy in there now when awake with the door open as he is when he is tired. If I become complacent and leave it too long etc then I am asking for trouble but with the foundation work done, progress is straightforward.
Initially I was in sight and sound of the pup but as I see progress I can move out of sight (even for just a second) bearing in mind I am trying not to create bad habits which in this case would be vocalising or scratching the cage. Initially progress may be in very small increments of seconds and minutes but once you have good foundations, as with house building, progress can then be rapid.
It is worth remembering that dogs are good at learning things in context. Therefore being comfortable and sleeping quietly through the night in the crate doesn’t mean the pup will be happy to spend 8 hours in the crate during the day. The context is different. At night the pup is sleepy. In the day not so much. At night it is dark, quieter and there are less interesting things happening. Being in the crate in the day is a very different context and needs treating as a separate exercise. Likewise with the vehicle. Whilst the process should get quicker in each new situation, you may need to go through this process in numerous situations before the dog generalises that being left in the crate is a safe and tolerable experience.
Our routine of in the crate, out for a wee, in the van, out for a wee, sleep, out for a wee continued until 1040hrs when it was time to go on a road trip. We were off to see Paul the handler with Vaders brother to see how he was getting on and it was a chance for the brothers to renew their bonds.
Vader needed no invitation to enter the house and investigate and showed no concerns about meeting Paul’s pet dog. Marshy (his brother) appeared and as you can imagine the reunion was energetic and involved plenty of chasing and biting. So much so that we intervened and took them into the garden. Here he met guinea pigs (already met them) chickens which provided not much more than mild interest and Paul’s work dogs. Vader was pretty much unphased and play soon recommenced with Marshy. Both pups are confident and tenacious and again we called time on their play as they were becoming over aroused and playing in a manner that you will probably only get away with towards your own brother. Whilst this is good experience and they learned a lot about pain (how it feels and how to dish it out) and other communication skills, I am always cautious not to allow it to escalate too far or too often as I don’t want that level of enthusiastic play transferring onto all dogs but more importantly, I don’t want the pup thinking that the most fun in the world can be had with other dogs. His life is now a balancing act between socialising in order for him to be a stable, confident individual around other dogs and being able to work despite the presence of other dogs. Get the balance wrong and he may well prefer to play with dogs if you over socialise or be fearful if you under do it. Get the balance right and the he will be what we call dog neutral which is our goal. Social and able to interact appropriately with other dogs but neither overly excited nor worried by their presence and preferring to work.
Being Mothers day the trip to Paul’s was not our only destination. The car journey from Paul’s to my mums was unsurprisingly a quiet one as the tired pup caught up on some well-earned sleep. Having been fed and toileted in my mums garden it was time to meet yet another new dog. My mums Cavalier is about the same size as the pup and the initial caution on both sides was soon replaced with chase albeit a much more subdued version than with Marshy. No ear biting here which was good. Some time in the crate with us in the front room was chance for the cat to investigate. Being a Maine coon he was considerably bigger than the pup and a good cat to meet first to instil that ‘don’t chase cats’ attitude. Whilst he didn’t look like he would try, I didn’t give Vader the chance to chase the cat and they respectfully sniffed each other as I held him. I don’t want bad habits developing or eyes being sliced by claws so our initial meeting with the age old rivals was calm and mutually respectful.
Having stayed longer than expected Vader came home tired and whilst I made sure he still had some evening activity, by 2330hrs he was more than ready for sleep. So much so that I didn’t hear a peep until 0400hrs when he needed a pooh. Once again he went back in the crate until I got up at 0545hrs ready for work.
It has been a very labour intensive weekend. From the long trip up and back to collect him last Thursday my life has been puppy 24/7. Whilst not everyone will have the time, patience or desire to put this much effort into the first few days, hopefully it shows two things. Firstly that if you do you can achieve results very quickly and secondly it has hopefully highlighted that even if you can’t dedicate your entire life to doing it the way I have, many of the things I have done are required in order to produce a well rounded individual. Whilst it may take more time, there are no corners to be cut. Cutting corners is taking risks and may have consequences for the pups future development and if this pup is to be your future working dog then you are setting yourself up for potential problems for the next 8 years.
One weekend of hard work has seen the pup recover from a major trauma, bond with me and my family, settle in to our home and develop the safe haven of the crate where he can sleep happily and be left for short periods alone. He is toilet trained and is well on his way to being a good traveller. He has met numerous species and encountered an endless list of novel stimuli all of which have been encountered in positive, confidence building way. I have the beginnings of a recall and have started to encourage his interest in ragging various items and chasing and retrieving. We have developed toileting, feeding and bedtime routines.
I have also so far prevented the unwanted habits of toileting in the house, crate and van. I have prevented the separation anxiety from his removal from the litter transferring into his new home. I have prevented him developing the habit of biting me and the kids and diverted his attention onto toys. I have prevented mat chewing, vocalisation and destructive behaviours when left and have prevented the neural pathways to anxiety and stress from forming.
I am now set up for training in earnest with a dog that is confident, secure, is mobile and able to be left for short periods. My priorities are now in shaping the dogs attitudes and behaviour toward becoming people neutral, dog neutral and environmentally neutral.